RuPaul’s Drag Race 08:02

Well now! This was a surprisingly good episode that was full of the things that we like; lip syncing, dancing, producer manipulation, shameless Ru self promotion, and more. Even better, it had one of the best performances we’ve seen in the show, and a surprising (?) ending.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves…

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First up the girls have to throw on very quick drag to show off their salsa moves to AB Soto and Ru to their song “Cha Cha Bitch,”…

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…and for the most part the girls moves bordered from comedic (Bob’s choula drag was hilarious), to ass shaking (Cynthia), to cute (Naomi’s attempts at a death drop), to gag-worthy (Chi Chi’s beautiful standing split into a death drop), to inspired (Thorgy’s homage to Frida Kahlo). In the end, Cynthia and Chi Chi won…

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… which means that they become the leaders of two a capella girl groups (The Lady Bitches from the prestigious Lace Front Institute Of Technology, and The Shady Bitches from the Lake Titicaca Academy of Braids, Weaves, and Waffles) in a lip-synched a capella Ru medley called Bitch Perfect.

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I am so happy that they brought back the group lip sync as a challenge, since a good lip sync is a drag queen’s calling card. After the joy of last year’s Glamazonian Airways, it’s good to see the girls work together to create an extravaganza (with more than a little help from choreographer and RuPaul’s Drag U’s former Dean of Dance Jamal Simms; who joined Ru and Michelle on the judges panel with Ru’s longtime music collaborator Lucian Piane and Pitch Perfect actress and songwriter Ester Dean).

And something surprising happened…

… These bitches Turned. It. Out.

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It is very safe to say, without any hint of hyperbole or exaggeration, that this is probably one of the best group performances on the whole in the show’s herstory. Unlike in past seasons where the weak links of the group clearly stood out, everyone was operating at a strong level and even those that were the weak links in their teams like Laila, Dax, or Kim, were weak just for not taking the stage as hard as their colleagues.

Let’s review the girls drive by style in their “Movie Premiere Realness” looks (and on a side bar, I am not a fan of “The Realness” as a runway song):

TEAM LADY BITCHES

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Of the Lady Bitches, they were okay if a little lacking in energy since they were playing the good girls. CYNTHIA was cute in the number, if a little scattered (but that shoe kick to the ceiling was cute). As for the dress, it’s cute but she looks like a young Susan Lucci. BOB didn’t stand out as much as I would have liked but this dress is fun. DERRICK nailed the lip sync, but this look is only so so for me. And while the dress is cute and she does look great as a redhead, the pompadour might need to be rethought as it’s not sitting right on her face. Poor LAILA did well in the number but she didn’t really bring the energy of a star to the proceedings. And this outfit was a bit too much for me; it not only looked cheap, but it made her look thicker than she is. And not to kick a queen while she’s down, but she should rethink her makeup; especially in the number, he face was so pale that it appeared flattened out. As gorgeous as this Vera Wang dress is, ROBBIE looks nondescript in it (I’m not sure that’s the right shade of blonde or hair shape for this dress) and was even more nondescript in the performance. Finally, KIM looked amazing in this outfit (Anime West indeed!), but she saved herself by developing a character that compensated for her lack of dancing. But she really needs to work on that walk, because it’s not good at all.

TEAM SHADY BITCHES

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It’s a shame that the challenge wasn’t judged on teams, because on the whole Team Shady Bitches won this one hands down! All of them across the board delivered more energy in the performance than their counterparts, and all but one (Naomi) were called for the critiques. While her leadership skills were a little lax, CHI CHI impressed me for knowing how to work the stage (and to deliver the lyrics while doing a handstand and moving her neck and not dropping a beat was impressive as fuck!). As for the look, it is very Sheryl Lee Ralph in Act Two of Dreamgirls, but it needs a wow factor. NAOMI needs to learn how to move her body on stage (which, given her gangliness could be a problem down the line) but she was ok in the performance. As for her runway, it was gorgeous (think Linda Evangelista posing for Herb Ritts) in spite of those atrocious shoes (#cliffhangers). BETTY was an utter bitch to her teammates and to Chi Chi in particular, but delivered when it came time to perform. On the runway, I loved everything from the neck up, and the dress looked great in motion. But once she stayed still, it lost a lot of its allure. DAX was underwhelming in the performance (just a bunch of low energy and excuses) and the runway (the neck up was giving me “Lonette McKee in Sparkle” – not The Cotton Club, Michelle! – realness, but down south was drab and unfinished). THORGY surprised the hell out of me; not for heroically taking Betty down a few pegs, but by delivering an amazing performance (in my mind second only to Chi Chi). And while the outfit was a calculated risk, it worked for her. What didn’t work was the overly blacked out eye makeup which closed off her eye.

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So Sheryl Lee Ralph… I mean, Chi Chi deservedly wins the challenge (no really, the resemblance is uncanny)…

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…and Dax and Laila must Lip Sync For Their Lives to Gloria Gaynor’s iconic anthem “I Will Survive.” Given its prominence as one of the great gay anthems, you would expect this number to bring out the absolute best in any queen lip syncing to it. Right?

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Ru’s face says it all…

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Mother. Was. Not. Happy. At All! Which is why she made a bold move and eliminated both girls (for the second time in the show’s herstory). And while I can’t fault Mother Ru’s decision in the slightest, in the light of the morning after, I would have kept Laila over Dax. After listing all the things she doesn’t do throughout the episode, I was underwhelmed. Laila, at the very least, had more energy in her performance; the problem for her though was that said energy was scattershot and not very focused when performing. And so while Dax’s leaving I am at peace with, Laila just seemed to have more potential as a contestant.

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But then Ru borrowed Michelle’s phone and made a call to come to the show, which begs the question: Who is Ru bringing in? An eliminated girl? A former contestant? Someone new entirely?

Oh god! Is it…? Could it be…?

Halleloo

And now that I’ve traumatized you, let’s go to some bullet points:

– First up, let’s wash the bad taste of that performance out with a good version of the song

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– Was it me or did Michelle’s face look off last episode? Maybe it was the hair, maybe it was the makeup, but she looked more like herself this time.

– I’m starting to see some storylines develop, especially in light of Kim coming out as being a former fat kid (along with Betty and Dax) and then dropping that she’s a virgin. Which then lead to the odd moment of the show…

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– The debut of THE SHADE TREE, a Real World-style confession booth for immediate confessionals; and oddly enough I kind of like the immediate in-the-moment response opportunity that it provides (as opposed to the pre-recorded reactions). That said, it has forced me to launch a new feature called THE SHADE TREE SPEAKS…

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(apologies to Mr. Silverstein)

– In the storyline department, Miss Chi Chi revealing that she was a former gang member was surprising, as is her lack of exposure to things (I truly believe her question about New England being overseas to be genuine, and accidental comedic gold). Also, watching Bob help out Kim (in the episode) and Laila (in Untucked) and trying to bolster their confidence was pretty amazing while still dropping great one-liners (“Kim Chi has two left feet and vertigo.” “I’ve got great legs. I bought ‘em on eBay.”)

– Props where it’s due, Lucian Piane’s arrangements of the RuPaul songs for Bitch Perfect were pretty amazing. And it must be noted that he is aging quite well, thank you.

– “Thorgy is in an abusive relationship with her makeup.”

– And because Miss Ru’s looks must be catalogued and analyzed for future generations…

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And now…

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Here’s how it goes: 1 point to each winner of the mini challenge, 4 points to the winner of the main challenge (I refuse to call it a maxi challenge), 2 point to the others in the top three (since Ru didn’t make a clear distinction, even though in my book Thorgy slightly edged out Betty), 1 point to all of the safe girls, 0 points for bottom three, -1 for “Shante! You Stay”, and -2 for “Sashay, Away.”

Ergo:

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NEXT TIME: It’s time for an acting challenge. And we find out who Ru called.

Who do you think it will be? Let me know.

Photo & Video Credits: Logo TV / World Of Wonder, Polygram Films Entertainment / Grammercy Pictures, Chad Sell

Originally Published on 15 March 2016 as part of “The Idiot Box,” my television column for l’étoile.

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